What I Learned Reading the Slushpile

Okay, it wasn’t technically the slush pile, but I did spend several hours last week reading manuscripts submitted for a local competition.  Here are five tips based on that reading:

  1. Always proof you’re work.  Did you catch the error?  If not, look again.  And then go proof your manuscript before you send it in.  Read it out loud.  That will help you catch botched verb phrases, missing words and more.
  2. Give them what they want.  Entering a contest for magazine nonfiction?  Then don’t submit a novel.  Or poetry.  Submitting material to an editor who only wants YA?  Then submit YA.
  3. Apples and oranges are not the same.  Especially when writing for children, you need to know what type of manuscript you are writing.  The picture book has different requirements than an early reader.  And a middle grade?  So not the same thing as a YA.  Not sure what the difference is?  Then you’ve got some work to do.
  4. The count is the limit.  Whether the cut off is 500 words or 10 pages, pay attention to the limits.  The editor you work with may not mind if you turn in 1250 words instead of 1200, but until you are certain, the limit is the limit.
  5. Let me hear the voice. Editors and agents have a lot to say about voice and I hope one of them will let me squeeze onto the soap box for just a moment.  The voice for a pre-industrial age fantasy should be completely different than that for a novel set in the Deep South in the 1960s.  Can’t tell one from the other? Than you have some serious work to do.

Get beyond these, the most common mistakes that I saw, on your manuscript will be at the top of the stack.